Don’t Cry for Me Argentina or I’ll Give You Something to Cry About

dawson-crying.jpgWere someone to page through the delicate cellophane sleeves of any photo album from my youth without my Director’s Cut voice-over that would normally narrate the sequence of faded pictures it would be impossible for that someone to not to make certain assumptions about me as a child.

Based on a hairstyle that has been described as a Chia Head fertilized with the razor clippings from a toy poodle at the Westminster Dog Show one might assume that my family either didn’t own so much as a hairbrush or that I regularly covered my grooved terra cotta head with a gelatinous seed coating. The truth is that although I did have access to an oversized comb I chose to use it as a fashion accessory by flagging it from my back pocket or tucking it into the top of my tube sock depending on my mood instead of as the grooming tool it was intended to be. (Incidentally, my hairdo is universally referred to by stylists as the “Best in Show”)

One might also come to the conclusion that for a period of time in the late 70’s my scalp had been surgically replaced with a Levis’ Brand denim flat cap; for a visual of the cap just imagine the head of The Village People’s Leather-Clad Biker Glenn Hughes wrapped in jean shorts. (If you want to see an actually photo of Glenn Hughes’ head wrapped in jean shorts one need look no further than the liner notes of their 1978 single, Y.M.C.A.)  The truth is that even though it was completely removable I consciously chose to wear the hat equivalent of a pair of Daisy Dukes on my head for a good portion of the fourth grade.

However, perhaps the most common and accurate assumption that is made when perusing the photographic documentation and Kodak moments of my pre-pubescence and adolescence is that I never stopped crying. A picture of me after a carnival with my face painted like a Jaguar. I think I asked for a Cheetah. Who could tell the difference? I could and that’s why I’m crying. A picture of me sitting on the picnic table at my Grandfather’s hunting camp impatiently waiting for my turn on the riding lawnmower. I knew just how to pass the time; crying. A picture of me in the topiary maze at Busch Gardens in Virginia. Not only was I the one kid who didn’t finish the maze, but I also got lost in it. They eventually found me, by following the crying.

Despite being the only child in history who did not use crying as a form of manipulation to get what I wanted, nearly every memory I have from childhood, even those not captured on film, at some point involve me sobbing, weeping, bawling, sniveling or tearing up; My brother got one more Christmas present than I did on Christmas morning, we were having scallop potatoes for dinner, construction workers whistled suggestively at my denim hat again, the only hairdresser who could give me a proper “Best in Show” turned out to be Jaye Davidson. You could say that in some ways I knew all there was to know about the crying game, but that did not stop my father from regularly using what I believe to be his favorite “Dadage” with me which was, “Do you want me to give you something to cry about?”    

Even though I always felt like my reasons for crying were warranted my father was not always like-minded and in spite of the benevolent tone of the question his intention was to not actually provide me with a legitimate reason to continue crying but ironically as motivation to stop crying. It may have been his stern tone, his disciplinarian stare, his intimidating presence or just that whenever he asked the question he was wrapping the end of his leather belt around his hand but it was years before I accepted my father’s generous offer; an offer I had until that moment always refused.

I was 10 years old and like usual I was crying about something. My mother told me in a sympathetic tone that I should go play outside before my father saw me crying. As this was sound advice I walked down the stairs to the hallway that led to our garage and was met by my father who predictably inquired whether or not I wanted him to give me something to cry about. In a rare moment of defiance I postulated what exactly this mysterious “something” was that my father had up his sleeve that would not only make me cry but also met my father’s minimum requirements for things worth crying over; and then I heard myself utter a single word, “Yes.”

It was an answer my father probably never thought he would hear and it hung in the air between us. For a moment he stared at me expressionless and in that moment I was certain I had called his bluff. However, it wasn’t until the next moment that I realized he wasn’t bluffing as he was now squishing me between the door to the garage and the wall so tightly that a Han Solo in carbonite outline of my body formed on the other side. It may have been the betrayal by my old friend Lando Calrissian, the gelatinous poodle seeds running down my forehead, the bent brim of my denim flat cap or an immense pressure capable of forcing a man’s small intestine into his coccyx (An image also featured in the liner notes of the 1978 single, Y.M.C.A.) but my father was right; this was something to cry about.

And though the coup de grâce only lasted for a second it was enough time for me to pledge to my unborn children that when they were crying I would never ask them if they wanted me to give them something to cry about. It was also enough time for me to stop crying and answer “No” when my father’s face peeked around the edge of the door and again asked, “Do you want me to give you something to cry about?”

So, it has been five and half years now since Jack was born and true to my vow 27 years ago I have approached Jack’s crying with compassion, understanding and sympathy for whatever it was that was upsetting him regardless of how trivial it seemed. “Pick up your toys, clean up your room, finish your scallop potatoes, groom this poodle, put these jean shorts on your head, run through this topiary maze…” statements that have all at one time or another resulted in tears and tears that have always been met by me with a gentle hand and a soothing voice and not with an ominous proposal to give him something to cry about.

That is until last week.

When Jack came home from school on Thursday he discovered that the regularly scheduled airing of his favorite show Ben10 had been pre-empted for that day to free up a time slot for a bonus George of the Jungle. His reaction was predictable and one that I was prepared to handle from years of experience. A melodramatic and Olympic quality Fosbury Flop onto the couch followed by a high pitch screech that bloodied the ears of any dog within a 3 mile radius of the house and all topped off with the most important ingredient of any good tantrum; the tears.

On any other day I would have sat next to him and said, “Young man, there’s no need to feel down. I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground. There’s no need to be unhappy.” I’d have placated him by either offering to let him play the Ben10 game on our computer or to play with his Ben10 action figures with him and that was what I intended to do as I walked across the living room towards him; but then something happened.

Something deep inside me awakened. A dormant gene, a recessive allele, a hereditary abnormality, an ancient evil, a tapeworm, I don’t know but whatever it was it had been passed on to me from my father who had inherited it from his father who was himself merely a recipient of this genetic trait. As I leaned towards Jack, who was now in full hysterics on the couch, to offer my customary comfort I found myself instead speaking with the voice of my ancestors, “Do you want me to give you something to cry about?” He immediately stopped crying and sniffed a “No.” It was only when he got up off the couch and went into the toy room that I realized I had instinctively wrapped my belt around my hand. Granted it was a reversible braided cotton elastic stretch belt but the leather trim is still somewhat intimidating.

Now, it isn’t that I broke a promise to myself that bothers me so much as it’s I know that someday Jack will muster the courage to answer my new favorite “Dadage” with a resounding “Yes” and when that day comes I’m really not sure what I’m going to do.

We have a detached garage.


Nothing Beats a Great Pair of L’eggs Except Baby Carrots

peep.jpgSince Easter is this Sunday that means that tomorrow is Good Friday; a day which is followed by Holy Saturday (Today incidentally is Strongly Agree Thursday). Good Friday is the day that not only marks the death of Jesus Christ, but is also the inspiration for the casual dining restaurant concept T.G.I.G. Friday (Thank God It’s Good Friday) This shouldn’t be confused with other fine dining establishments and family-style chains with names inspired by religiously significant ecclesiastical holidays or books from the Old Testament such as I.H.O.P. (International House of Passover) or Applebee’s (A name which symbolizes how Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden after being tempted by the Devil in serpent form to eat the forbidden Spinach and Artichoke Dip) Be careful folks. These collection plates are hot.

As mentioned above, this Saturday is known as Holy Saturday and marks the final day of Lent. Lasting 40 days to represent the time Jesus spent in the dessert enduring temptation by Satan, Lent is a time for followers to demonstrate their own faith through prayer, penitence and by abstaining from things like coffee, soda, red meat, alcohol and foods high in carbohydrates and saturated fats; basically the entire Applebee’s menu or the building blocks of James Gandolfini’s food pyramid. (If you’re still having trouble completely cleansing your soul of that unsightly sin and temptation I recommend using a Lent Brush.)

For those calendar watchers it’s important to point out that the six Sundays in Lent are not counted as part of the forty days because each Sunday represents a “mini-Easter” and a celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death (Hey Jesus you just won an Epic Battle of Good vs. Evil against the Devil. What are you going to do now?)

Finally, Sunday is Easter and what better way to observe the most important religious holiday in the Christian liturgical year than to tell children that while they’re sleeping a narcissistic anthropomorphic rabbit will bring them a basket filled with candy and solid milk chocolate versions of himself. For me, rabbits and bunnies are a fine choice if they’re sipping Mimosa’s in the Grotto at the Playboy Mansion avoiding eye contact with Hugh Heffner until the Viagra wears off, pacing greyhounds at the dog track, testing which shade of eye shadow complements the Cover Girl Whispering Pink Lip Gloss they’re wearing, returning lost penguins to the South Pole or even serving as the base for a tasty stew but not as the widely accepted symbol of Easter. Also, when my kids want candy I make them get it the old-fashioned way, by dressing up in costumes and going door to door with old pillow cases.

When I was younger the “Easter Bunny” always seemed to take great pleasure in hiding my Basket so effectively that by the time I found it concealed beneath the floorboards (with help from the parental GPS of my day, “You’re getting warmer Billy…warmer…listen for the heartbeat…” and a team of police dogs) my brother and sister were already gnawing the ears off a second chocolate bunny. (It’s a fact that when a chocolate bunny loses its sense of hearing the taste of its other senses are enhanced) I attribute the lasting emotional scars from these protracted searches and the absence of loose floorboards in our home as the primary reasons the “Easter Bunny” doesn’t bring baskets to Jack and Adam.

Now, just because they don’t receive traditional Easter Baskets that doesn’t mean we deny them participation in other Easter-related activities. This past Sunday, for instance, we took the boys to an Easter egg hunt. If you’re not familiar with the Easter egg hunt it is a tradition in which the resurrection of Jesus is celebrated by filling surplus L’eggs pantyhose containers with jelly beans, Marshmallow Peeps and Hershey’s Kisses then hiding them in the shrubbery. (Christianity is the only control top religion with reinforced toes and no visible panty line. Take that Scientology.) Once the eggs are hidden, packs of children are permitted to hunt provided they are properly licensed.
Despite claims from some that there is no sport in hunting defenseless eggs, this annual custom is more about controlling the plastic Easter egg population since without these traditional culls our countryside would look like a Chuck E. Cheese Ball Crawl inside of 3 years. (America – Where a Kid can be a Kid)

We arrived at the hunting grounds just before One O’clock and gathered with the growing crowd of families on the church lawn across the street. There really is no better way to prepare for an activity celebrating Jesus than by first trampling his father’s lawn. While the other Dads and I discussed some of our favorite verses (my favorite is the 1974 classic Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla) Jack and Adam frolicked with the other kids, all of whom moved with the divoting grace of a 7-iron in the hands of Charles Barkley. Finally God stepped out of the vestibule shaking his fist and yelling something about “you irreverent children” and “just putting down fertilizer.” and fearing eternal damnation we all moved to the sidewalk.

After a group photo of the of the children was taken, a long-winded explanation of the rules of the hunt, and a surprise visit by the game warden to check permits the children were led across the street to the house where the egg hunt was taking place. With baskets in hand the children were reminded they could each find up to 15 eggs and no more than 2 baby carrots which served as Egg Hunt currency and could be traded in for bonus toys; or in other words Dollar Store crap that parents would have to furtively throw away once they got home. (As of last Sunday the currency exchange on one Baby Carrot was at $1.27 American Dollars. We’re either in a recession or a Cobb Salad.)

Since it’s difficult to find hiding places for over 300 hundred brightly colored plastic eggs against the dull bucolic backdrop of late winter the hunt was over within 5 minutes even for the least skilled of the hunters. Afterwards Jacked marched proudly around the yard, his basket overflowing with the spoils of his efforts, and Adam wandered aimlessly into the side of the shed, his basket overflowing with his own head.

The day ended with me extracting the contents of the plastic eggs in Jack’s basket and returning them the organizers (I wanted my security deposit back), Kathleen chasing Adam who had already eaten $.71 worth of a dirty baby carrot, and all the kids taking turns jumping on a rusty trampoline that lacked the customary protective netting around its exterior. It was a minor miracle none of them had a great fall by Humpty Dumptying themselves over the edge. (Another minor miracle? Turning water into wine coolers. See: Bartles & Jaymes 3:16)

It may just be that by talking about Easter I feel closer than ever to reconciling the feelings of ostracization and distress I associate with it or it could just be that we never seem to have any candy in the house, but I have the sudden urge to check the downstairs for loose floorboards.